Reading is like stepping into somebody else’s mind, a holiday from oneself.” Joan Aiken
A short story: When I was in the midst of an early rewrite of my children’s novel, I decided to give my little heroine another girl to confide in. When I told my wonderful friend Betsy about this, she instantly said I had to read one of her favorite children’s books, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken.* I did — and fell in love with this sparkling gem of a novel — a classic tale which continues to garner devoted admirers.
So when I came across Joan’s short story collection, Shadows & Moonshine, I snapped it up. Some of the tales are truly magical. “Moonshine in the Mustard Pot” shimmers with emotion and almost made me cry.
In a brief introduction to Shadows, Joan shares some fascinating insights. As she observes, “Novels are “written and planned much more slowly and methodically than short stories. The planning can go on for months.”
“But stories just arrive — like tornadoes — one minute they are on top of you, next minute, unless you grab them, they are gone…. Stories are fun to write. They are, or should be, like a sleigh-ride — you get on course, and then some terrific power, like the power of gravity, takes command and whizzes you off to an unknown destination.
“A short story, I believe, should have at least two different narrative threads in it….H.E. Bates, who wrote beautiful stories about English country characters, told me that for him a story always needed two different ideas to get it off the ground, to make it begin working and fermenting in his mind. I thought about this and realized that the story writing process was exactly the same for me. Out of nowhere you are suddenly given the basic thread — a person is lent a book by someone who then dies quite unexpectedly…
“I have walked about, sometimes for months, with part of a story like this dangling in my brain, waiting for the fertilizing agent to arrive and mix [the] ingredients together, start them growing and shaping into a live structure. Sometimes it never happens. Sometimes it happens the next day. Sometimes years go by.”
What fascinating insight into the writing process! I’d love to hear from short story writers reading this — does this ring true for you as well? Write on.
* Joan Aiken’s website is wonderfully creative and well worth a visit: http://www.joanaiken.com/
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